Coleman resigns as co. attorney

Webster County Attorney Cori Kuhn Coleman will resign from her position, effective at the end of the day Friday.

Coleman has taken a job as assistant city attorney for the city of Des Moines, working mostly in real estate and the intergovernmental agreement division, she said. Her husband has also secured a job in Des Moines.

“We’re from Des Moines originally, so we’re taking the opportunity to move closer to family,” Coleman said.

Coleman announced June 7 that she would withdraw her name from the ballot.

She was appointed Webster County attorney in June 2013, when County Attorney Ricki Osborn resigned to take over a private practice.

In her 14 months in the position, Coleman said she’s worked hard to maintain the cohesion of the office.

“I feel we have hired and maintained a very knowledgeable core group of attorneys. I’m very proud of that fact,” she said.

Coleman joined the office in 2006 under then-County Attorney Tim Schott. In 2009, she was named second assistant and was promoted to first assistant in February 2013.

Though she’s seen some tough cases in her time with the county, Coleman said it’s hard to talk about any of them in particular.

“It’s always challenging for a prosecutor to think of one particular case. I hesitate to do so, in part to avoid re-victimization,” she said.

Regarding one recent plea deal where the judge rejected her office’s recommended sentencing, Coleman said the judge has the final say in these cases, and she respects the decision, but she also has no regrets.

“I have absolutely no reservations or regrets about that plea arrangement,” she said. “I respect the court tremendously and I always abide by the court’s decision.”

In the case in question, Holly Ekstrom pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to murder and operating a motor vehicle without owner’s consent in connection with the July 2013 murder of Steven Fisher.

Each charge carried a possible two-year prison sentence. The prosecution recommended the sentences be imposed concurrently, meaning with the amount of time Ekstrom already served, she may have been eligible to start on parole with no further prison time.

Instead, Chief Judge Kurt Wilke imposed consecutive sentences, which would total four years. Wilke was not required to accept the sentencing recommendation.

“In that particular case … that was a very well-structured plea agreement with myself and Andy Prosser with the Iowa attorney general’s office. The agreement was based on the amount of time already served, combined with the way the department of corrections structures credit,” she said.

The rationale behind a plea agreement is given to the judge on the record at sentencing hearings, Coleman said.

The plea agreement was also made after talking with the victim’s family.

“We always as an office consult with family members prior to entering into those type of agreements, especially in cases of that nature,” she said.

The plea agreement would have sent Ekstrom to a residential treatment facility as a term of her probation, Coleman said.

Under the current sentence, Ekstrom will still be eligible for parole before serving a full four years, because of the way the prison system works.

“The bottom line,” she said, “is plea agreements are very challenging, and if anyone ever has questions they can always contact the county attorney’s office.”

Ekstrom admitted in her plea that she was present when Ronald Dilley killed Fisher. Dilley is serving a 50-year prison sentence at Anamosa State Penitentiary after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Next step for county

The Webster County Board of Supervisors accepted Coleman’s resignation at its regular meeting Tuesday morning.

The board will discuss in future meetings its intentions on how to handle the vacancy in the short period between now and the Nov. 4 general election, said Supervisor Clark Fletcher.

“We haven’t determined exactly what we have to do,” Fletcher said, and added that the decision should be made with the full board present.

Supervisors Keith Dencklau and Bob Singer were absent Tuesday.

Normally the law requires either a special election for a new county attorney, or for the board of supervisors to appoint one. An appointment to be made within 40 days of the vacancy – early October in this case – according to Webster County Auditor Carol Messerly.

It’s not clear what is required when a vacancy occurs this close to an election, she said.

First Assistant Webster County Attorney Jennifer Benson, a Democrat, will run against Republican Joseph McCarville, an attorney with the Webster County public defender’s office in the general election.